How To Lead Through A Crisis

How To Lead Through A Crisis

How To Lead Through A Crisis

By Mark Wager

Every Leader will eventually reach a stage in their career when they and find themselves in a crisis situation and are faced with the challenge of leading their team through it. The crisis may be as a result of a poor economic situation or it may be a natural crisis, like the one we just faced in New Zealand while dealing with the aftermath of its worst natural disaster in history, Cyclone Gabrielle. In this week’s article I want to provide you with some practical tips on how to lead through a crisis.

Change strategy 

“Faced with crisis, the man of character falls back on himself. He imposes his own stamp of action, takes responsibility for it, makes it his own.”- Charles de Gaulle, Former President of France

The most common mistake Leaders make during a crisis is that they try to lead like it’s business as usual but it’s anything but. When there’s a crisis situation information is key and information is changing at a rapid pace and if you don’t keep up then any decisions you make will be based on incorrect information and you are likely to do more damage than good. Crisis Leadership is a different type of Leadership and maybe very different to what you are used to. So be prepared to change.

Streamline decision making 

“In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”- Theodore Roosevelt, 26th U.S. president

It’s important that all decision making processes are streamlined, the less people involved the better. In the early days of the Roman republic when faced with an impending invasion they appointed one man, Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus to take complete control over the state and after achieving victory a mere 16 days later he relinquished power and went back to his farm. In a crisis it’s about action rather than meetings, it’s too late to be installing processes. You need to work with what you have so be prepared to take charge.

Communicate, communicate and communicate. 

“In crisis management, be quick with the facts and slow with the blame.” -  Leonard Saffir, Public Relations Executive. 

People like to know what’s going on and what's going to happen. Familiarity is comforting but when the future is uncertain, what can a Leader do? It’s important that the Leader explains with as much detail as possible what is  happening and how it will impact those concerned even if its going to be bad news. Giving people bad news is better than giving them no news at all because if Leaders say nothing, people will start to panic. The best way to demonstrate this  is to use the example of Airline pilots.

We’ve all been in a situation when we are on a plane and the Captain starts talking. “We are about to experience some turbulence so the seatbelt sign has come on, please stay in your seats the cabin crew won’t be serving during this time. We will let you know when it’s okay to walk around.” A few moments later the plane experiences the turbulence, there’s some concern but not too much and then it’s over. Now imagine if the captain didn’t say anything and suddenly the plane started shaking. There would be complete panic on the plane. The difference between concern and panic is the quality of communication from the Leader. 

Remember the ABC of leadership. 

“In a crisis, don’t hide behind anything or anybody. They’re going to find you anyway.” -  Bear Bryant, former Alabama football coach.

During a crisis people’s reactions are heightened, people who are usually apprehensive become scared, people who like to take control become control freaks, people with short tempers become angry people, we all cope with a crisis in different ways which is why we look towards our leaders for direction.

It’s important that the leader remembers the ABC of Leadership, which stands for Always Be Confident. If you have doubts as a leader that's fine and it's even natural but you can't show those doubts to your team, they want you to be confident so that's what you need to be, leadership is about many things but it’s never about you so you need to be the leader that your team needs. Also remember confidence is very different than arrogance. Confidence comes from a sense of humility while arrogance comes from a sense of insecurity.

Empower the front-line 

“I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.” -  Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States.

When General Stanley McChrystal was in command of the Joint Special Operations Command in Afghanistan he quickly realised that the situation on the ground was changing so fast that when he made decisions they were outdated by the time those decisions had to be implemented. As a result he started to empower the frontline members of his team by providing them with more power to make decisions that they felt were right based on real time information.

A leader needs to be confident and prepared to take control but willing to relinquish that control when there are others who are in a better position to make the right decisions. A crisis situation is not the time to be asking for permission, it’s not the time for egos, it’s not the time for internal politics the only thing that counts is action. General Stanley McChrystal had a mentor for his military career and still to this day: an Army officer with a thick southern accent, Major John Vines. His advice was  “If there are 3 people responsible for feeding the dog, the dog is going to starve.” Meaning if there’s too many people involved it’s likely nothing will be accomplished.

It’s in the difficult times that people look towards their Leaders to lead and the type of leadership required is not the same as is applied during normal business as usual. You need to follow the advice above and be prepared to be more visual, less democratic while empowering the right people around you to do what needs to be done and you will be able to lead your team successfully through a crisis.

About the Author

Mark Wager is a Leadership Coach with over thirty years of managerial experience across a range of industries. A former Broker Sales Manager with a London Finance House and a National Manager for the Ministry of Justice Mark specialises in working with Leaders helping them overcome the barriers, both technical and mental standing between themselves and success.

A strong believer in taking complex leadership & psychological theories and making them accessible to people regardless of their background, education or industry Mark has helped develop Leaders from some of New Zealand’s leading organisations such as Fisher & Paykel, Weta FX, Heartland Bank, NZRL, NZ Netball, NZ Soccer, NZ Basketball, Amnesty Int, Barnardos, Oxfam, Red Cross and many more.

Mark has limited availability for new clients so If you are serious about becoming more successful then contact Mark today.

Posted: Wednesday 8 March 2023

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